One of the most interesting parts of cruising is visiting each of the ports of call. Seeing the countries from the ship is nice, but getting off the ship and going into the port city or beyond is much more exciting.
When planning for your cruise, it is important to decide if you want to go on excursions and, if so, which excursions to sign up for. Here are some things to keep in mind:
Even before you book your cruise, you may be able to explore what excursions are available for the particular voyage you are considering. Excursions are often not bookable until four to six months before you sail, and sometimes they are not even view-able. To get an idea of what might be available, check on a similar cruise that is closer to sailing.
Another way to find out what is available at each port is to look at Cruise Critic. This website is full of cruise information and has a section about ports. TripAdvisor and Google can also provide information. If you know what ports your ship will be sailing to, you can look them up to find more information.
At some ports, the ship is able to dock, so passengers can walk off at their convenience. At other ports, the ship anchors off shore and tender boats are used to carry passengers to the shore. If you choose an early morning excursion, you will need to sign up for an early tender time (if available) or plan to get in line early.
Book Ahead or Sign Up On the Ship
Excursions are available to book before your cruise or on board the ship. Either way is fine, but I recommend booking ahead if possible, especially if there are excursions that you are particularly interested in. Popular excursions fill up and there is usually no savings for booking “last minute” on the ship.
If you are working with a travel agent or cruise consultant, they can book the excursions that you request. In most cases, though, it is easy to book your own excursions through the cruise line’s website. Once you have booked your cruise, and if excursions are available, set up an online account, and log in.
If you wait until you get on the ship, there will be an excursion desk where you talk to a consultant to choose and then book your choices.
Variety of Excursions
Excursions are usually listed by port, so you can look at all the choices for each port at one time. Prices vary – I’ve seen excursions as low as $30-40, and as high as $300 or more. Lower-priced excursions often only includes transportation to a site, with optional activities at the site available for an extra charge.
Higher -priced activities include deep sea fishing, dune buggy rides, jet ski rentals, or even helicopter tours. If you want this type of an excursion, expect to pay for it.
You might not be interested in an expensive excursion. Be sure to research the ports, because there can be public beaches or shopping accessible with a short walk. Shop, see the sites, spend time at the beach, have lunch, and then return to the ship.
Ship-Sponsored Excursions – My Experience
I’ve had some great experiences with ship-sponsored excursions long ago and recently. I’m not sure they are worth the price, but there are benefits that come with ship-sponsored ones as opposed to booking on your own.
When I visited Jamaica on one of my first cruises, I wanted to see Dunn’s River Falls. The Falls were a two-hour bus ride from the port our ship used, so I chose the ship-sponsored excursion. The bus driver ran into some terrible traffic on the way back to the ship and we arrived nearly an hour late. Since the excursion was ship-sponsored, however, the ship waited for us to return. As soon as our tour group was on board, we set sail.
Organizing Your Own Excursion
Instead of paying for a shore excursion sponsored by the ship, you might want to plan you own excursions. Vendors often line the port area pushing their own excursions. The cost may be the same or a little less than the comparable ship-sponsored one.
One thing to keep in mind: for excursions that are planned outside the cruise line, participants are responsible for making sure they get back to the ship before it sails. If they do not, the ship can sail without them, leaving the participants to find their own transportation to the next port or back home.
Port research is important here. How far from the port is the site or activity you are interested in? What time do you need to be back on the ship? Don’t cut it too close – give yourself plenty of wiggle room.
Independent Excursions – My Experience
When I cruised this year, I was with a large group. Some of us planned our excursions together. One of the excursions planned by the leader of our group was a visit to Stingray City in Grand Cayman. It looked fun, so I joined the group.
I wondered if the excursion would be gimmicky and when we arrived and saw a crowd of people, I was even more concerned. It may have been a bit contrived, but it was still interesting to see the stingrays up close and to be able to touch and hold them. We spent enough time at the site so everyone on our excursion boat could have a turn with the fish. It was a fun excursion!
My Friend’s Experience
After research and reading reviews, four people from our group booked a deep sea fishing expedition. By booking independently, they were able to secure the excursion for about half the price of the ship-sponsored one.
They were concerned when they arrived and saw the small boat they would be fishing from. As they started out, the captain told them that he was only expecting two people – not four. It wouldn’t have been a big problem, but then he also mentioned that he only had two fishing poles. My friends determined that the situation was unacceptable and asked to return to shore where they were given their money back.
Despite the good reviews, the deep sea fishing company did not come through. My friends were disappointed that they couldn’t fish. Participating with the ship-sponsored excursion wouldn’t have had the same problem. If my friends were going to do this again, though, they would probably do it the same way. Some ship-sponsored excursions are just too expensive. Many independent excursions are excellent.
Choosing Cruise Excursions
In choosing cruise excursions, my recommendation would be to book before your trip. Do your research online and decide what you want to do, then book it. If you are undecided, wait. When you get on the ship, ask at the excursion desk. Ask other cruisers – many have been on previous cruises and know what is good.
Know that whatever you choose will be better than staying home. Remember, there is no rule that says you can’t go on the same or a similar cruise again. Next time you can choose different excursions. Cruising is a great way to see different parts of the world with very little planning. It a very relaxing way to vacation.